Old pine tree felled on campus was rotten

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 February, 2010, 12:00am

Part of a 70-year-old tree at Maryknoll Convent School - cut down amid protests last week - was rotten and foul-smelling, indicating its removal was justified, the school says.

The 20-metre Norfolk pine was felled just days before the Waterloo Road school's 85th anniversary celebration after a drainage contractor damaged its roots.

School supervisor Jeanne Houlihan said it had been 'a kind of a revelation' to discover part of it was hollow and rotten, although the school had announced earlier it wanted to remove the tree for safety reasons.

'A considerable section had a hole in it, which meant there was some serious injury to the tree that might not have been visible.'

The removal was criticised by former pupils who said the landmark pine had been felled because of negligence. But the school said it had received permission for the removal from the Antiquities and Monuments Office, required because the school is a declared monument.

Houlihan said she understood the reaction from pupils and alumni.

'Girls wore green ribbons on their uniforms because of their sadness for the tree. That's perfectly all right. It's part of their sentiment they want to hold on to the tree. Just a few of them have been pushed into something they don't know by a few legislators who don't know the whole facts.'

She said she had received many suggestions on what to do with the wood from the felled tree. These include cutting it into slivers to be encased in plastic for souvenirs and turning the trunk into a table. 'We don't know how it's going to work and have to wait and see.'

In a statement printed in Chinese-language newspapers yesterday, the school said it obtained a permit under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance to conduct construction work after the building was designated a historic monument by the government in 2008.

'Under the ordinance, the school with the permit is allowed to conduct work in emergency situations to remove trees that pose a threat to public safety, provided that the work does not affect the heritage buildings and the Antiquities and Monuments Office is informed. The office replied to us on February 4 that it did not have objections regarding our notice,' the statement said.

Meanwhile, preparations are going ahead for the anniversary celebrations. These include a gala dinner at the Convention and Exhibition Centre on February 21 that will be attended by 2,000 alumni and parents, more than 200 from overseas. Current pupils will stage lion-dancing and musical performances.

Houlihan, who joined the school in 1955, says she is glad to see many of her former charges blossom into movers and shakers in society.

Famous alumni include former permanent home affairs secretary Shelley Lee Lai-kuen and Undersecretary for Financial and the Treasury Julia Leung Fung-yee.

'For those that don't make headlines, they are equally fabulous. It can be as simple as a person in catering. They are happy in their professions and responsible ordinary people who make society work.'

The school issued a book, Forever be True - The Love and Heritage of Maryknoll, last year as part of the celebrations. Featuring photographs of the school and anecdotes by students and alumni, it has sold more than 4,000 copies.

Investment adviser Amy Ho Main-wai, organiser of the celebrations, graduated in 1981. 'The school made me what I am today. The education I got there was a free-wheeling one that gave students much choice and room for development.'

Gloria Ko Yip Wai-han, former principal and graduate of Maryknoll, says the anniversary provides a chance for them to reinforce the school's spirit. 'Such values as loyalty, compassion and concern for others form the basis of our education. Even years after graduation, students always come back and remember their teachers warmly.'